Early on, I bought the idea—maybe you bought it, too—that the older I got and the more I learned, the more I would know for sure. As time went by, I’d have more understanding and fewer questions. I liked that idea, so I stocked the warehouse of mind full of facts. By now, I’ve got a storehouse of information. So, in one way, I know more than I used to know. But, in another and more important way, I know less.
As Alice in Wonderland puts it, things have gotten “curiouser and curiouser.” Questions have multiplied. Edges have blurred. There’s more grey, less inky black contrasting with shiny white. Mysteries have broadened and heightened.
I’m especially more perplexed about us—about human beings—about what makes us tick and ticks us off, about how we are wired up on the inside and what we transmit and conduct on the outside. I am simultaneously awe-struck and troubled by our capacity for both good and evil, compassion and cruelty, creativity and destructiveness, love and violence.
We perpetuate war and famine; we maintain racism and oppression; we deprive children, robbing them of their future and ignore the elderly, stripping them of dignity. But we also selflessly sacrifice for peace, tirelessly work to feed the hungry, courageously cross boundaries of race and class; energetically teach tutor and coach children; respectfully honor and help our aging neighbors. I am just coming to understand how little I understand about the workings of the human heart.
Since I know less than I used to know about the things that matter most, I hold on for dear life to the few things I’ve got. I hold on like a child hugs herself close to her mother after a bad dream in the middle of the night. Here’s what I hold most tightly: God is love and God loves the whole world.
I find it ironic that the truths I am holding onto now are the ones I learned before I knew that I was learning. Maybe you remember what T. S. Eliot said in The Four Quartets:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
All my exploring keeps bringing me back to the beginning; my search has me arriving where I started. And in the unfamiliar-familiar place, I hear the voice of a new old calling: the call to love.
At the beginning, the good men and women of the First Baptist Church of Conley, GA told me to memorize two Bible verses: the fragment from 1 John 4—“God is love” and the phrase from John 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We didn’t call memorizing memorizing. We called it “learning by heart.” How right and true that is: they wanted me to learn “by heart” the things that I would need to sustain my life: God is love and that God loves the whole world.
Those wonderful folks who shaped my earliest faith also taught me to sing: “Jesus love me, this I know/for the Bible tells me so” and “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world/red and yellow, black and white/they are precious in his sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
I got it early, but I still haven’t gotten it as fully as I need to: God loves the world. There is not a corner of the world untouched by God’s love. Everything on the earth—plant or animal, animate or inanimate—is here because, at the dawn of time and in every moment since, God’s immense love, a love God takes joy in sharing, has overflowed in the ecstasy of creation.
It’s all here, we’re all here, because of love. God lavishes love on every human being, young and old, men and women, “red and yellow, black and white,” friend and enemy, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist and searcher.
There is not a person on the earth whom God does not love. God sent Jesus for all of us, and God yearns for us to respond to the love God keeps pouring out on us.